Albums from May, part 2; Daft Punk

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
If I’m honest, I don’t think Daft Punk are all that, and I never really did. I’ve liked all their singles enough, and bought all their studio albums pretty much as and when they came out, and can clearly see the influence they’ve wielded over the combined sphere of dance and pop music around the world (do you see what I did there?), and last year I even tracked down the CD single of “Music Sounds Better With You” because I suddenly felt like I needed it, and you can’t download the track individually anywhere.

But they’ve never really grabbed or excited me or shaken my world; Discovery isn’t the totemic monument to electronic dance music in my musical history that it seems to be for so many other web-era music fans, stans, writers, and geeks, it’s just a decent album with a handful of amazing singles on it. I can’t remember the last time I listened to Homework all the way through. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever done it in one sitting. Or standing. Or driving. Or dancing.

Maybe that’s the problem; I’m not, for various reasons, much of an actual dancer and nightclub goer, despite loving a lot of dance music, and I’ve pretty much always found Daft Punk, especially Homework (and perhaps Human After All, too, although who ever actually listened to that enough to tell) to be far too functional and elongated and plain, the hooks sparse, the beats strung out for mixing into what precedes and what follows. “Da Funk” is great, but goes on about twice as long as it needs to. Likewise “Around The World”. They know this; not for no reason is the last track on Discovery called “Too Long”. It lasts precisely 10 minutes.

Daft Punk are also responsible for the phenomenon of side-chaining that’s swept everything up in its wake for a decade, and made stuff like Flying Lotus almost literally unlistenable to me. It was their pumping kick drum, sucking everything else out of its way like a giant, dancing vacuum cleaner, that helped to accelerate the loudness wars in the 00s into unbearable territory. And they’re probably to blame for will.i.am, too.

So I was actually really quite pleased by the idea that they were going to make an organic disco record, with orchestras and session musicians and an old-fashioned mix and ‘quiet’ master, rather than pile up the samples and synths and loops and side-chained compressors again. Those sounded, to me, like the ingredients for a Daft Punk album I might actually want to listen to properly rather than just cull the singles from and ignore the rest.

And that’s pretty much the case, I guess. I wasn’t all that impressed by “Get Lucky” to start with (though I’ve grown to really like it), and I could do without Paul Williams (especially) and Todd Edwards, and the ‘sad robot’ vocoders are maybe done a little too much on the likes of “The Game Of Love”, but the live-drums+synthesizers of the second half of “Giorgio By Moroder” (almost as good as the John Stanier breakdowns from the second Field album), the intricate, pulsing, slippery groove of “Motherboard”, and a whole host of other stuff (the preposterous melodrama of “Contact”; the weird juxtaposition of “Doin’ It Right”) is worth the price of admission and then some.

As for the mastering; it’s not ‘quiet’ per se, it’s just really good, and sophisticated, and dynamic, and open, and lush sounding. It won’t sound weird and out-of-place next to anything else from 2013 on a playlist; it’ll just (probably) sound a lot better. As ever when a ‘big’, beautiful sounding record lands, I hope it will reconfigure the way that other people produce and release their own records; Random Access Memories throws the disgusting sonic mush of the latest Phoenix album into startling, horrific perspective. It sounds almost as good as the House Of Blondes album.

So yeah, cut it down to 45/50 minutes, shearing out some of the overtly cheesy, yacht-rock nonsense, and this is a gorgeous, glorious piece of nu-Balearic liquidity, grooves and licks and sunshine and melancholy and subtlety and some ridiculous solos. Which is pretty much exactly what you’d want from a new Daft Punk album, right? I don’t understand why some people’s knickers are in such a twist.

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